Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Climbing the Walls & Istanbul Design Week

When we left the house for Chora Church, we had an elaborate plan in mind that would get us from the church to Istanbul Design Week at the old Galata Bridge. Actually, we had Lonely Planet's plan in mind: In the Istanbul City Guide, they had more or less laid out a path that would get us from the church to the water, via several historic sites (though oddly the book doesn't mention that the neighborhood is borderline seedy).

The Lonely Planet path laid out eight points of interest and we took the route backwards (which actually makes more sense as heading toward the Golden Horn, instead of away, is all downhill), and started about halfway. (The sites we skipped were a spot where you could climb the walls, the Mihrimah Sultan mosque visible on the map, and the Roma neighborhood of Sulukule which doesn't exist anymore).

So after we explored Chora Church (point 1 on the map), we headed to the Byzantine city walls, which had been built Emperor Theodosius II to contain the burgeoning city. The walls stretch from point 2 to 3 and beyond in both directions, but point 2 is more or less where we figured out that you can tackle the steep steps and actually climb UP on the walls. The view from the top was absolutely spectacular - we could see Istanbul Design Week to the left, the skyscrapers in the our general neighborhood straight ahead, and Galata Tower to the right.

[The photos from top left going clockwise: land walls (to the right; you can see a guy on top), me on top of the land walls, Palace of Constantine
Porphyrogenitus, and Istanbul Design Week from the city walls] 

However, there's no path on top of the walls so once we'd taken in the 360 view, we had to climb back down and continue along the street.

Our next stop (point 3) was the ruined Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, which was nothing but a brick exterior that blended into the walls (so much so that we ended up asking a guy on the street though once we saw it, it was obvious). According to Lonely Planet, it was likely part of a larger palace and was built in the late 13th or early 14th century and has since been used as a wild animal menagerie, brothel, and Jewish poorhouse. You can't go into it at all though the guy we met said that sometimes tour guides put up ladders to let the tourists climb up (though after we did see a gate so who knows).

From there, we attempted to reach point 4, the former location of the palace's dungeons. Apparently some of the Byzantine emperors were tortured and murdered there. It was difficult following the specific path laid out in the book because neither the book nor the streets much bothered with street signs, but after wandering through the neighborhood, we eventually found the general location. We couldn't manage to figure out what the dungeons were supposed to be though, if they were against the walls or across the street.

After that, it was just about a block to the Golden Horn and its waterfront park, which was gorgeously illuminated by the amber afternoon light. From there, we could clearly see the Aya Sofya and again the Galata Tower to the right, as well as the Rahmi Koc Museum and its ships directly across the way.


From the park, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Istanbul Design Week at the old Galata Bridge. We were invited to an event there that started at 8pm, and we probably arrived at 5:45. We'd planned to get there around 6:30 to have time to look at all the exhibits and in truth, we had too much time. One of the newspapers said that organizers aimed to make it "one of the most important events on the European design calendar," but I think they have a long way to go before that happens. (Granted, the newspaper was also a sponsor, so grain of salt.) Mostly because the spaces were often taken up by corporate brands (IKEA, CocaCola, Pinkberry, Red Bull, etc) or filled with student art, neither of which creates a cutting-edge event. However, they did have some fun interactive areas, like at Red Bull where you could make sculptures out of cans. 


We wandered through the event and after we had seen everything, we sat outside on the bridge watching the sunset and waiting for the free french fries and beer (which eventually came and we wonderfully greasy and we left soon after...isn't that terrible?).
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